When we think of local community leaders such as chiefs, assistant chiefs, and village elders, our minds often conjure images of arrests, crime, and uniformed authority figures. However, it is essential to recognise the multifaceted role that these administrators play in addressing fundamental issues at the grassroots level. In Kenya, the perception is that chiefs and assistant chiefs primarily contribute to crime and security management, but their responsibilities extend far beyond this narrow view.
In Kaloleni Sub County, Kilifi County, the Kaloleni Young Mothers Community Based Organisation has successfully collaborated with local offices to raise awareness around SRHR and SGBV through their Accelerate program. Chiefs and assistant chiefs have been instrumental in mobilising communities, especially men, for community sessions.
At the heart of their responsibilities are the handling of basic case management issues, the enforcement of law and order, and the resolution of community conflicts. They play a crucial role in facilitating the application of identity cards and birth certificates, highlighting their significance in community development.
The involvement of chiefs in gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programming is pivotal. Chiefs reach thousands of people through community dialogues, known as barazas, where they advise on traditional affairs, influence policy-making, and drive social mobilisation campaigns. This outreach helps address cultural norms, values, and social practices related to SGBV in Kenya.
While progress has been made in developing the capacity of traditional leaders in matters of SGBV, there is a need for continued capacity building as many local administrators remain uninformed about the drivers of SGBV in Kenya. Collaboration with local government officials and agencies is crucial to empower women, engage men, and sensitise communities about SGBV.
Recognising the challenges of organising men’s groups, the CBO strategically partnered with the office of the Chiefs in Kaloleni. Chiefs hold barazas that attract the entire community, providing an effective platform to deliver sessions on family planning and GBV messaging. Chiefs sensitised the community about the legal aspects of SGBV, defilement, and intimate partner violence, shedding light on prevalent issues in the coastal region.
The role of chiefs and assistant chiefs in community development, crime prevention, and addressing social issues is multifaceted. Leveraging their influence and respect in the community is key to successful programmes, such as those focused on GBV prevention and SRHR. Continued collaboration and capacity building are crucial to enhancing the impact of local administrators on creating positive change at the grassroots level.